I updated my iPhone 4S to iOS 6.1.3 long enough ago that I don’t remember doing it. The update became available in late March and I applied the update shortly thereafter, so it’s been months. Suffice it to say, this problem didn’t manifest itself right away.
However, on my way back home from the beach over Memorial Day weekend, my car’s Bluetooth system suddenly stopped connecting to the iPhone. It was connecting to an Android phone of mine just fine, so I quickly ruled out any problem with the car.
Upon closer examination, I found that both the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections in the settings menu were grayed out, meaning that I couldn’t connect to Bluetooth devices or Wi-Fi networks. After a quick search, I discovered that others were having the same problem. There’s a 16-page (and growing) forum post on Apple’s website and an Apple help page for correcting the issue, along with a smattering of similar complaints popping up on other sites.
I tried all the steps Apple laid out on its help page, including completely backing up the phone and restoring it to its factory defaults, but the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options remained grayed out. I figured they were both on the same chipset and that something was wrong with the chipset, but the fact that other users were complaining of this problem after updating to iOS 6.1.3 made me a little suspicious.
Whatever the case, I needed the Wi-Fi to work so I didn’t incur overage charges from Verizon (and Wi-Fi is also far faster than 3G, of course) and I very much wanted the Bluetooth to work so the phone could be used with my car’s hands-free system. Continuing to use the phone in its current state wasn’t really an option, so I made an appointment at the Genius Bar and headed out to the Apple Store.
The girl who checked me in for my Genius Bar appointment was perfectly pleasant. When I showed her the phone, without skipping a beat, she said, “Oh. Then you get a new phone.” I got the impression that this wasn’t an isolated incident, which actually came as a relief. I figured I’d get a replacement and be on my way in no time. “Actually, wait,” she continued. “Is the phone still under warranty? I don’t want to give you the wrong information.”
It wasn’t. I explained to her that the phone had been replaced less than a year ago — the previous one had a wonky mute switch – and I knew that replacement phones only carry a three-month warranty. It had been far longer than three months since the last phone was replaced.
“I’m just trying to get an idea of what my options are now,” I explained. My plan was to use this phone until the next iPhone comes out (I’m assuming it’ll be out in the fall) and upgrade then. If push came to shove, I would have considered upgrading to the iPhone 5 and extending my contract early, seeing that a replacement phone would cost $200 anyway.
As it turns out, I was two weeks away from being eligible for an early upgrade to an iPhone 5, so that option was quickly nixed (buying a full-price iPhone 5 would have cost me $650). So the options presented to me were to either keep using the phone as is — without Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — or pay $200 for a replacement phone because mine was out of warranty.
I’ve worked in the technology industry in some capacity or another for almost 20 years, and several of those years were spent as a technician fixing computers. When a gadget acts up, there’s generally one of two main culprits: software or hardware. For computers, software problems are more common, mostly due to the fact that software is manipulated by error-prone human beings, whereas hardware problems are more rare but are pretty easy to diagnose. Phones are a little more complicated, as the software is more difficult to muck up, whereas the hardware is prone to bumps and drops and humidity and dust and lint and a bunch of other environmental factors.
At any rate, it’s rare to experience both a software and a hardware problem in a gadget at the same time — but this almost seemed like a software problem that caused a hardware problem. I ventured this theory to the girl checking me in at the Genius Bar, and her stance was that it was both a software and hardware problem before ultimately conceding that the software had caused the hardware to stop working correctly.
I asked her if this had been a common issue, and she said that it had. She also said that it would be impossible to roll the phone’s software back to the previous version, and that doing so wouldn’t even fix the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi problem anyway.
“The software update was supposed to fix the Wi-Fi, but it ended up breaking it in several iPhone 4 and 4s phones,” she said. I asked her if she could see why I would be frustrated by having to pay $200 to replace a phone that was working fine until I installed a software update, and she said yes, she could see why I would be frustrated. But the sticking point remained: the phone was out of warranty and this was apparently now a hardware issue that could only be fixed by replacing the hardware.
So I ended up paying $200 for a replacement, knowing that I’ll probably be able to sell it for at least $200 when the new iPhone comes out. The screen on the old phone was pretty dinged up, too, so that got fixed in the process. The girl helping me told me that Apple would “take the old phone and figure out what went wrong.”
Throughout this entire process, I continually got the feeling that this is an issue Apple knows about and an issue that’s not exactly uncommon. And the replacement phone I was given hadn’t yet been updated to iOS 6.1.3 — I’m not going to update it, either. I’d advise against updating to it if you have an iPhone 4 or 4S and haven’t updated it yet.
I get that this is a complicated situation: again, it’s rare for software to cause a hardware problem. And I have to imagine that this was only really a problem because I’m in the weird six-month limbo between my phone’s original warranty expiring and my early-upgrade window with Verizon kicking in. Paying $200 because of something that happened to Apple hardware as a result of an Apple software update just doesn’t seem right, though.
On the flip side of that coin, I can see where Apple’s coming from, in some respects. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to tell whether this software update broke the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections or if they broke for another reason. For all Apple knows, I could be some con artist trying to trade a dud for a like-new phone.
It’ll also be interesting to see whether the next update to iOS – presumably iOS 7 – fixes this problem, or if the hardware actually gets fried after running 6.1.3 for a while. In retrospect, I should have taken the old phone back and jailbroken it to see what would have happened. Some users are reporting that the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth spring back to life intermittently.
I relayed this story to Apple’s PR department on Tuesday morning to see if they wanted to comment on it, and was told Tuesday afternoon that the issue would first be looked into as it relates to me as a customer — to see if everything was handled correctly — and then perhaps there would be an official statement given to me as a reporter. I haven’t heard back yet about either, but will update this article if and when I do.